Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) -- A New York man recruited by al-Qaeda who plotted to bomb the city’s subway system was sentenced to the equivalent of two life terms in prison.
Adis Medunjanin, 28, was sentenced yesterday in Brooklyn, New York, for planning the failed suicide bombing, which was set to occur around the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
A jury convicted Medunjanin in May of nine charges associated with the would-be bombing, including conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. A life sentence is mandatory under charges of using a destructive device in connection with the plot.
U.S. District Judge John Gleeson sentenced Medunjanin, who is from Bosnia and lived in Queens, New York, to life plus an additional 95 years.
“This was not a fringe character in our society. He was a bright, well-liked young man,” Gleeson said. “I still can’t wrap my mind around it, the road from being a kid in Queens like so many other kids to being a terrorist.”
The attack was planned after Medunjanin and two associates swore an oath to the Taliban in 2008 and received training from al-Qaeda in Pakistan, the U.S. said. It was aborted after the conspirators became suspicious they were being watched by law enforcement, prosecutors said in court filings.
At yesterday’s hearing, Medunjanin, with long, dark hair and a beard, stood in front of the judge’s bench wearing a wrinkled black suit. Before he was sentenced, he sang several verses of the Koran in Arabic and commented on what he perceived as social injustices.
“I would like to ask you in what kind of world are we living, full of hate and lies?” he said. “Why is it we always talk about helping the poor, but all we see is poor getting poorer?”
Medunjanin denied the government’s allegations in the case.
“I had nothing to do with any subway plot or any bombing plot whatsoever,” he said.
Medunjanin’s lawyer, Robert Gottlieb said his client plans to appeal the conviction.
During the hearing, Gottlieb said Medunjanin is a sensitive person who became profoundly religious. His family came to the U.S. to escape conflict in Bosnia, Gottlieb said. Medunjanin’s parents, sister and extended family were watching in the courtroom, the lawyer said.
“His life, his family, his religion were under attack as soon as he was born,” Gottlieb said. “Adis, your honor, loved this country and its ideals and he felt a responsibility to stand up.”
Authorities arrested Medunjanin in 2010 after he crashed his silver Nissan Altima in what the prosecutors described as a “jihadist attack on a public highway.” His associates, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, pleaded guilty in the same year and agreed to testify in the trial. The three men have been in custody since their arrests.
In testimony, Zazi said the men agreed to be part of a terrorist plot because they were upset about the U.S.’s presence in Afghanistan. Ahmedzay came to the U.S. from Afghanistan. Zazi was born in Pakistan.
For training, the men went to a terrorist camp in Waziristan, Pakistan, where they were taught to use rocket launchers, machine guns, grenades and pistols, Zazi testified.
Al-Qaeda didn’t specify what to target in suicide attacks, Zazi said. Other possibilities the men discussed included Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the New York Stock Exchange and movie theaters, he said.
The men had planned to bomb subways during either the morning or afternoon rush hour in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which fell in about September 2009, Zazi testified. The plotters discussed the No. 3 train, which runs on Manhattan’s West Side, or the No. 4 train on the East Side, because they are busy lines, he said.
Law enforcement officers searched Medunjanin’s home in the Flushing area of Queens on Jan. 7, 2010. About an hour after they left the property, Medunjanin swerved his Nissan into another vehicle at more than 90 miles (145 kilometers) an hour while followed by government agents on a New York expressway, prosecutors said.
During the incident, Medunjanin dialed 911 and screamed in Arabic, “We love death more than you love your life,” according to the government.
The case is U.S. v. Medunjanin, 1:10-cr-00019, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
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